Executive Briefing May 3, 2019


B+ C Trump, Democrats Talk Rural Broadband
President Donald Trump’s push for rural broadband deployment as a way to help high-tech agriculture was on the agenda at a White House infrastructure meeting Tuesday (April 30) with top Congressional Democrats. According to someone familiar with the meeting, Trump, Pelosi and Schumer agreed that broadband must be a part of any infrastructure plan. Democrats have budgeted for billions for broadband, while the president has previously just signaled it would be part of a general government investment to spur even more private investment in a variety of infrastructure projects.

Next Gov USDA Accepting Applications to Fund Rural Broadband Services
Technology usage generally requires a robust broadband connection that many communities in rural America currently lack. The Agriculture Department hopes to strengthen and expand those weak broadband services and infrastructures through the recently established loan and grant-based ReConnect Rural Broadband Pilot Program. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced this week the department is now accepting online applications for funding through ReConnect.

Ars Technica Ajit Pai-proposed upgrade to 25Mbps starts paying off for rural ISPs
More than 106,000 rural homes and small businesses in 43 US states will get access to 25Mbps broadband at some point in the next decade thanks to a Federal Communications Commission policy change. The FCC’s Connect America Fund (CAF), which distributes money to ISPs in exchange for new broadband deployments in underserved areas, had been requiring speeds of just 10Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream over the past few years. But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai led a vote in December 2018 to raise the standard for new CAF projects to 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up.

WIRED The Pentagon Wants Your Thoughts About AI But May Not Listen
In February, the Pentagon unveiled an expansive new artificial intelligence strategy that promised the technology would be used to enhance everything the department does, from killing enemies to treating injured soldiers. It said an Obama-era advisory board packed with representatives of the tech industry would help craft guidelines to ensure the technology’s power was used ethically. Although the board is examining the ethics of AI at the Pentagon’s request, the department is under no obligation to heed any recommendations.


Microsoft News Center Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corp. and Microsoft to build the SOVA Innovation Hub in southern Virginia
Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corp. (MBC) and Microsoft Corp. on Monday announced a partnership to build the SOVA Innovation Hub in Southern Virginia. MBC will invest over $5 million to build the SOVA Innovation Hub, which will be located in downtown South Boston, Va., to help meet its growing need for office space. Microsoft, through its TechSpark initiative, will use the space to encourage innovation and spur economic opportunities in the region. The facility will also bring together local nonprofit organizations from throughout Southern Virginia to offer impactful programming for digital skills education and workforce training.

The Anglo-Celt Ballyhaise to tune into TV white space for broadband
Can unassigned TV channels be used to deliver rural broadband across Ireland and beyond? That’s the innovate project that Microsoft and Teagasc have signed up to explore. The managing director of the software giant’s Irish company Cathriona Hallahan described the technology as “a game changer for farmers and rural Ireland” when she arrived at Ballyhaise Agricultural College last Saturday to sign the memorandum of understanding between Teagasc and Microsoft. The pilot will enable students to access internet-based digital technology while training and working remotely in the fields and outbuildings across the 220-hectare campus.

Delta Business Journal OPINION: Broadband Needs
In order for our state to remain a leader in agriculture and in touch with modern precision farming, we must address rural broadband access. Our current network is straining to keep up. To bridge this gap, C Spire recently announced a consortium with companies like Microsoft and Nokia to create “real-world testbeds” to test broadband technology in rural Mississippi. One of these technologies is TV white spaces—which uses vacant spectrum between broadcast television stations to wirelessly deploy broadband to remote, underserved areas. Unfortunately, TV white spaces technology continues to be left on the sidelines as a result of regulatory barriers at the federal level.

Seattle Times Bridge the digital divide
America is a nation of internet haves and have nots. That digital divide now has the attention of Washington Sen. Patty Murray, who wants to empower rural, tribal and other underserved communities with the internet access and skills that much of America already enjoys. But broadband access alone isn’t enough. People — especially students — also need the skills to take full advantage of the internet, which is why Murray and several of her fellow Democrats have introduced the Digital Equity Act of 2019.

North Carolina Health News Lawmakers look for ways to reduce barriers to rural broadband
Advocates and lawmakers say that broadband is an economic, education, safety and health care issue that needs to be overcome to help rural communities. Broadband access could help existing rural businesses and help attract new ones to an area. Rural residents say their students have access to the internet at schools, but often cannot complete online homework assignments at home. First responders say they need broadband access to better communicate and protect their communities.

Associated Press At Walmart, using AI to watch the store
Inside one of Walmart’s busiest Neighborhood Market grocery stores, high-resolution cameras suspended from the ceiling point to a table of bananas. They can tell how ripe the bananas are from their color. When a banana starts to bruise, the cameras send an alert to a worker. Normally, that task would have relied on the subjective assessment of a human, who likely doesn’t have time to inspect every piece of fruit. Welcome to Walmart’s Intelligent Retail Lab — the retail giant’s biggest attempt to digitize the physical store.

Washington Post Oregon became a testing ground for Amazon’s facial-recognition policing. But what if Rekognition gets it wrong?
When workers at an Ace Hardware here reported a young woman had walked out of the store with an $11.99 tank of welding gas that she hadn’t paid for in her tote bag, an elaborate high-tech crime-fighting operation sprang into action. A Washington County sheriff’s detective, working with the agency’s Special Investigations Unit, ran the store’s surveillance footage through an internal facial-recognition program built by Amazon, revealing a possible match. (Paywall)

Bloomberg Facebook’s Zuckerberg Preaches Privacy, But Evidence Is Elusive
Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg stood on stage Tuesday at the company’s annual F8 conference in San Jose, California, in front of a giant screen sharing a simple message: “The future is private.” Zuckerberg spent most of his speech talking about Facebook’s commitment to a privacy-focused future, which will include more ephemeral posts, small-group activity rather than public sharing, and encryption for Facebook’s messaging apps. But there was an easy way Facebook could have shown its commitment to privacy that would have saved Zuckerberg some time: by rolling out “Clear History,” a feature Facebook promised a year ago that will let people disassociate their internet-browsing histories from their Facebook profiles.


Microsoft on the Issues

  • Blog on Washington’s privacy legislation: This past legislative session, we supported efforts by the Washington legislature to pass Senate Bill 5376, the Washington Privacy Act (WPA). This landmark legislation would have provided consumers in Washington state with the strongest set of privacy protections in the United States. It ensured that consumers, and not businesses, retain control over their personal information online. It gave consumers the right to opt out so that their personal data is not sold, shared or used for advertising, while also holding businesses responsible for safeguarding personal information. (Microsoft on the Issues – Our support for meaningful privacy protection through the Washington Privacy Act, April 29, 2019)


  • Blog on federal privacy legislation: When the California Consumer Privacy Act passed in that state’s Legislature last year, it touched a match to a tinderbox of concerns about how much of our personal information is outside the protection of federal laws. Now companies of all kinds are lining up to support federal data-privacy rules—so long as those would preempt the CCPA and any similar state privacy laws. (TechTank blog – A federal privacy law could do better than California’s, April 29, 2019)

Information Technology Industry Council

  • News release on modernizing US infrastructure: The group recommended Congress focus its infrastructure modernization efforts on the following areas: enabling smart tech in infrastructure; ensuring the security of digital infrastructure; expanding broadband access nationwide; expediting the deployment of licensed and unlicensed spectrum for 5G; and encouraging use of digital design and construction technologies. (ITI News Releases – Tech, Telecom Groups Urge Congress to Modernize U.S. Infrastructure for the 21st Century, April 29, 2019)

Note: Voices for Innovation regularly shares a range of opinion articles and press releases from organizations in and publications covering tech policy. These pieces are meant to educate our audience, not to endorse specific platforms or bills.